That Awkward Personal Branding

personal brandingOver the last little while, I’ve had quite a few people ask me for help with their LinkedIn profiles. They have asked where to start, what to do and what to say. The exchange generally starts with their reluctance to include a photo and is followed by a hesitation to post projects or examples of their work. As for the summary statement, well that conversation is usually a real treat, complete with bashful looks and sometimes real resistance.

Initially I was a bit flabbergasted by the requests. I’m not in HR, I’m not a techy and I’m certainly not a social media guru. For me, LinkedIn is generally a case of trial and exploration. I have a basic understanding of what I want to promote about myself and what I would rather avoid based on years of reputation management and profiling of issues for other people and organizations. After that, I look to LinkedIn itself for clues. It offers an array of options that you can adopt or ignore.  They even provide a handy rating scale to tell you if your profile is complete. If it is, you’re a super star, if it isn’t, LinkedIn points you to suggestions for improving. In fact, there are so many tools and tips associated with using, improving, modifying and enhancing your LinkedIn profile, it begs the question, why would anyone ask for advice?

It all comes down to personal branding. People want help because it’s weird tooting your own horn in public. It’s not so much that the concept of personal branding is new as much as it’s new to most of us.  Hollywood stars, corporate leaders and political candidates to name a few, worry about personal branding and so they should, but the rest of us?  Well, we may want to maintain our good reputations but we never had to take out an ad to do it and it feels weird, awkward…like bragging, but with more reach.

Our resumes are generally discreet documents.  They are shared with potential employers and human resources employees but you don’t post them for just anyone to look at.  At least we didn’t use to.  Now we have LinkedIn and it can provide far more information about us than any resume ever has.  What’s more, potential employers are eating it up.  In fact, HR professionals will often look at your LinkedIn profile before they even consider looking at your resume.

It’s also where colleagues go to find you.  Unlike Facebook, there’s no awkward role confusion. I don’t generally want to talk about my weekend away with my LinkedIn contacts or my latest project with my nieces. So, when people ask for help with their LinkedIn sites, they are generally looking for the public relations support that used to be the purview celebrities.

Clever photographers have figured it out, and will offer suggestions to clients for the perfect LinkedIn photo. Information graphic companies are offering the use of programs that can transform all that information into a poster, which can be added to your profile. Perhaps it’s inevitable that communications people would start to assess and suggest how to achieve a better digital persona. In any case, I would suggest this:

  • The same rules apply to LinkedIn as apply to resumes, times ten.  If you include false information on your LinkedIn page, someone, somewhere will spot it and talk about it.  I’ve had no less than four people approach me about a particular colleague’s “inaccurate” LinkedIn page. I use the word inaccurate, they used words like, liar, faker, self-centered, conceited, who does that jerk think …well you get the picture.  That can have a serious impact on your reputation, the very thing you are trying to protect and promote.
  • Do include a brief description of the jobs you held. Titles can bear remarkably little resemblance to the work we actually do. For instance, my title is Senior Director Communications and Relations.  If I asked fifty people to tell me what they thought I did, I’d be lucky if I only got back 50 descriptions and amazed if any of them actually resembled my job.
  • Do take the opportunity to use the summary option. It is a chance to share a little about your personal style and your intentions, not to mention a great opportunity to make the different pieces of your background come together.

Feel free to make fun of me, mine is incomplete as I write this.

  • Engage in some of LinkedIn’s communities or groups that fit you.  Aside from expanding your professional network, and accessing useful information, you will meet some amazing people.There is more to personal branding than LinkedIn.  It’s an easy and obvious tool, but consider making it a gate way to other things like, personal projects, blogs/websites, PowerPoints, YouTube offerings, your imagination will provide the limits.
  • My best piece of advice is, don’t be shy. There are no prizes for the most modest LinkedIn page and no potential or current employer, client or colleague is looking at your profile to see how mediocre you are, so take the opportunity to shine and show your best sides. Showing your best includes always taking the time to be polite in LinkedIn’s various communities.
  • If it feels really weird then ask someone to help you fill it out so you don’t let unhelpful modesty get the best of you. Think about the new Dove commercial.  Your more beautiful than you think.

Do you find personal branding  awkward?

How do you decide what’s appropriate to post?

What other ways do you develop a personal brand?

About Debra Yearwood

Experienced communications and public relations executive who manages challenges with an eye on outcomes and a sense of humour. Learn more about how I think at Learn more about my experience at
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25 Responses to That Awkward Personal Branding

  1. I think Linkedin is great – but I’ve only just recently started thinking this way… I used to be a bit shy about my personal branding (despite helping my client’s with theirs!). I think it’s my British sensibility of not wanting to over-expose myself or shout about my achievements.

    I’m pleased to tell you that I’m now over this though – I’ve had to be – plus I think blogging has helped too.

    Thanks for a helpful and thought-provoking post Debra 🙂


  2. Great tips Debra. Your approach to personal branding is a lot like mine. I look at online networking (including my profiles and what I post and share) to simply be an extension of my face-to-face networking – with the extra caution that everything we put out there on the web could be there forever. Unlike face-to-face networking, online people don’t have visual clues (like eye contact and smiles). It’s especially important to be very succinct yet clear on what we’re communicating. It’s also a good idea to hone our profile descriptions with the keywords for which we hope people will find us. Since I’m a bit of a spreadsheet junkie, I maintain a spreadsheet with my social network profile info. That way, I can copy/paste/tweak descriptions while making sure that I have a consistent message to keep my brand on track.


    • Great ideas Sherryl. I am not a spreadsheet junkie, but I think that for managing your online presence it may actually be a must. With the number of platforms (and it grows all the time) it can become incredibly easy to get muddled, not to mention the amount of time it takes to recreate your profile in different settings.


  3. What great tips! It is always hard to really showcase yourself and I agree many people feel weird “tooting their own horn”. I love how you say that you need to treat LinkedIn like a resume and make sure the information you showcase is factual. 🙂


  4. My view on the whole issue of personal branding is not so rosy so I’ll leave it out.

    No one really knows what the “honesty thermometer” is on LinkedIn, so from what I’ve seen I’d say it’s a cool place to be . . . that’s if you consider honesty to be a hot aspect. Having said that, like so much of social media it does have potential.

    Now Debra, since you’ve offered yourself as the lamb – how did you put it – “feel free to make fun of you” – well, what can I say?

    I noticed you updated your LinkedIn profile by adding your birthday to it. I also noticed that it includes the month and the day, but not the year.

    I appreciate the honesty in that! lol . . . and happy belated 35th! 🙂


  5. Diana says:

    I have never found personal branding to be awkward. And although i give advice on optimization of profiles and company pages on LI, i would say it just like you – “Feel free to make fun of me, mine is incomplete as I write this.” LOL

    Your post is great – thanks for writing it and sharing it! But it reminded me of something else i found down the road… It is always a good idea to be yourself – online or offline; and it is a valid tip especially when it comes to your personal branding online and sharing things on your LinkedIn profile. Why? Well, if you share news and posts that truly interest you – you will get connected with people who share your interests. If you share stuff which you find boring (even though it isn’t for others), you will then get in touch with very smart and funny people with those interests – but you will most probably find them boring because they’re not a good match for YOU and for YOUR true interests 😉


    • Great points Diana. Creating an artificial digital persona may be a fun sociological study, but it will lead to considerable negative reputation issues in real life. Connecting up to relevant folks with genuine shared interest will make the process much more worthwhile.


  6. I have always found personal branding a bit awkward. Talking about myself is never something I am comfortable doing (though evidence may point otherwise at times).


    • Jon you are a brilliant writer. If I had your skills, I’d be hard pressed not to brag a little. You write about about all kinds of stuff, but I haven’t seen any evidence of bragging. 🙂


  7. Kelly Wade says:

    Great advice. LinkedIn is one of the most important tools these days to be consistent in your industry. I agree with you that a good photo is essential and not having one can be detrimental. Your photo is the very first thing that people see and give them a positive impression. Not having a photo of yourself can be the initial set-off for a potential employer or contact to believe you may not be what they’re looking for.


    • Thanks Kelly. In some respects it is the very importance of the photo that makes people skittish about it. They get so hung up trying to figure what the right one is that they just opt out of putting one up. What people don’t realize is that it makes an impression not to have a photo there too. I have to admit, if I had to choose between nothing and a bad photo, I’d go with nothing.


  8. Arleen says:

    I get what you say about personal branding, but how would you translate that into business branding. I am finding more and more people are using LinkedIn for business. I have joined LinkedIn business groups and I must say the emails can get overwhelming. As usual a great article and well written.


    • Thank you. Take a look at the example Catarina provides. You and your business brand are tied. You can impact and influence each others’ reputation. Using LinkedIn to promote your business makes sense, providing you share useful and relevant information sparingly. If a business sends out multiple and unnecessary messages, its just like someone who comments on various LinkedIn discussions without really having anything to add, it quickly becomes a nuisance. IBM has tons of presence on LinkedIn with various employees engaging in discussions. Although I follow one of their groups I’m not bombarded by their posts.


  9. Personal branding is, or should be, easy. What are you really good at? What makes you different from others/your competitors? Hence call myself International Businesswoman & Writer and use the same photograph from Saudi Arabia everywhere.

    Just got myself a new URL for a company I just set up. Was just playing around with it thinking nobody would notice the web site. Just for fun checked Stat Counter and it turned out 148 people had visited it in 10 days!!!!! Didn’t believe it and hence checked my ranking on Alexa. Turned out is was already about 1,300,000.

    Thought it would take a year or so to get ranked that high. But it was swift because of my personal brand. Have now connected my new site with Google Plus and linked with my blog. So now it’s approximately No. 800,000 on Alexa. Isn’t it amazing what building up your personal brand can do for you:-)


  10. Simone Hart says:

    I found this article to be very interesting, challenging and helpful. It has encouraged me to look into the program a little more.


  11. It seems like LinkedIn turns everyone into a business? A lot of businesses take years to get their branding right, they rebrand and change brands at will. How much of this is tolerated in LinkedIn?

    Another related publicity drive which is on the increase are people writing e-books and using their online profile to promote themselves as experts.


    • That LinkedIn makes us all behave more like businesses is true, sometimes that’s good thing, introducing a little discipline and forcing people to look at their careers in a different way. At other times it becomes, well for lack of a better word, goofy, that’s generally when successes get inflated and accomplishments embellished. As to the growth of folks promoting themselves as experts, the internet did a great job of that before LinkedIn came along. 🙂


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